Pursuing beauty

Pursuing beauty – idealism or tangible difference?

Over the weekend I came across a mini-feast in the form of Alan Moore’s Beautiful Conversations. Alan has been an inspiration and feasting on these short, beautifully filmed conversations did my soul good.

It inspired me to explore more. And to more intentionally use the lens of beauty as I look at myself and the world around me.

This isn’t the pretty, fluffy or superficial attractiveness of current aesthetics. But the fundamental quality of the universe. ‘Does the world embody beautiful ideas?’ is the core of Nobel scientist Frank Wilczek’s book A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design

When I look out at our valley the only ugliness I see is that which we and others have made. And in the wider world just now there is plenty of ugliness.

That’s one of the downsides of tuning my eyes for beauty. Seeing ugly hurts.

But maybe it’s only as we are prepared to see the reality of ugliness, that we can find the resourcefulness to pursue beauty.

Talking Grace

One of Alan Moore’s conversations was with Peter Childs, Head of the Dyson School of Design Engineering at Imperial College, London. They talked about the connection between beautiful design and the old hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. An unexpected juxtaposition for a business conversation!

They talked about the opportunity to bestow ‘uncommon grace’ on endeavours to bring something from nothing. Creating something ‘truly honourable’.

I sense that this applies equally to our conversations. When we choose to speak. What we choose to say. How we choose to say it. Does it start with honourable intent?

Currently, I am using the phrase ‘gracious plain speaking’ with a client to frame the conversations they need to have. It has been liberating for them. Engaging their deepest intent with permission to cut through the stuff… And speak simply and clearly.

How different would our conversations be if we were more intentional, with beauty in mind?

Do beauty

Yesterday I taught a Leading Change masterclass for Swansea University’s ION leadership programme. They were a great bunch and we had diverse conversations about their businesses during the morning.

However, I was struck by what happened when some started talking about how productivity targets were handed down. The atmosphere changed in the room as I sensed the ugliness of seeing people only as resources, who needed to work harder and faster. I see it elsewhere and know what happens when capable, motivated people get run-down and excluded from creating beautiful solutions.

Can we do better?

I think so and the experience of Alan Moore, Peter Childs, David Hieatt and others suggests it is achievable.

So what does it mean to ‘do beauty’?

Bestowing something wonderful on your design, process, business or organisation… Enabling meaning… Honouring the contributions at all levels…

As humans we have a need to know the difference we make. The value of our potentially unique contribution. In the masterclass yesterday while discussing how R&D departments are so often separated from the mainstream of work, I was conscious of the evident loss of insight and engagement. We can so easily reduce people to doing more, faster, but without the opportunity to do better. Without the opportunity to bring more value to their customer or client.

Beauty is going beyond the basics, both in our behaviour and in our work. Being part of creating something of beauty, whose contribution to the world is more than just ‘stuff’, more activity or simply busyness. Even processes matter.

This is really challenging me as I think about both Collective Headspace and The Waterside. I do want to create something new, something beautiful that bestows grace and has lasting value.

No waste

This leads me to a further insight from my feasting on Beautiful Conversations. There is no waste in pursuing beauty.

It’s double sided. Not only is everything used, but we also only do things that are truly beautiful, otherwise we incur waste.

As I look out across the valley the changes in the season are very evident. The high winds and rain today will probably bring down the remaining leaves.

The feather is from the Canada Goose moult when they transitioned into parenthood earlier in the year.

Nature has clear cycles of birth, life, decay and death. It is a closed loop, everything is part of the endless cycle. Nothing is wasted.

This is a hugely different perspective from our ‘throw-away’ culture.

Hearing about the work of the Dutch carpet tile manufacturer, Interface, in ingeniously reusing old fishing nets as part of their carbon neutral goal was inspiring. Their overall philosophy, running for decades, gave me real hope that we too can do things differently and thrive.

Yes, it does require more effort to think differently. And often hard work to execute. But the benefit is enormous. On a small scale I’m seeing that in the way I now prepare food…

Letting go

Another aspect of ‘no waste’ is that we are open to recovering the benefit of things we’ve had to lay down. At the time it feels like loss, and there may be hurt involved. But I’ve found that if I let things go, it’s surprising how often they return in a different guise.

Sometimes this is about working within constraints, with grace. Finding the beauty in less.

Other times it’s about being prepared to let go of roles or functions. Things whose time has passed.

Because of our personal circumstances I continue to walk through this letting go. Being prepared to say goodbye to someone I used to be, or had hoped to be.

It can be scary as my world appears to get smaller and smaller. However, I’m finding that smaller is also richer – in quality – and only in ‘dying’ does new life arise.

So, I hope and put on my lenses for beauty. And I am sometimes really surprised by what I see – if I give it time!

What about you?

What might you see if you used the lens of beauty? In your own life and relationships? In your work or your contribution to the ongoing creation of the world (to paraphrase Rob Bell)?

“Beauty gets us out of surfaces and into the foundation of things” as philosopher poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it.

Will we search for it and embrace it as part of our ultimate reality?

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